Andy Hardy Goes to Prison

MGM most likely began its long running series of shorts, “Crime Does Not Pay,” in response to civic group criticism that the gangster films of the early 30s (of which MGM’s “Beast of the City,” directed by Charles Brabin, remains a favorite in these parts) were corrupting the morals of Depression-era youth by glorifying gangsters. But many if not most of the 50-odd shorts in the series, now gathered into a fascinating six-disc set from the Warner Archive Collection, are concerned with middle-class crimes of opportunity, like joy rides, embezzlement and insurance fraud, suggesting that MGM was chiefly interested in policing its own public. The series was initiated by George B. Seitz, who would soon go on to MGM’s prescriptive “Hardy Family” films.

The films remain compelling as social history, as the crimes depicted gradually shift from the domestic front into anti-Nazi propaganda, and conclude with some postwar intimations of film noir (including Joseph Losey’s first Hollywood effort, “They Gave Him a Gun”). These terse, two-reel dramas also offered a training ground to filmmakers like Fred Zinnemann (whose early features, such as “Act of Violence,” owe much to the CDNP style), Joseph M. Newman and Felix Feist, while offering occasional harbor to established auteurs like Jacques Tourneur (“Think It Over,” with Dwight Frye and Red Barry as arsonists), Gustav Machaty (whose 1938 “The Wrong Way Out” is the best of the handful of Hollywood films by the director of “Ecstasy”), and Edward L. Cahn (whose series of CDNP shorts anticipates the crushing pessimism and bizarre stylistic choices of his ultra low-budget 1950s work). I’m sure there’s much to uncover in this collection, and I make a first pass here, in my New York Times column for this week.

66 comments to Andy Hardy Goes to Prison

  • This is a fascinating article!

    Have seen maybe a dozen of the CRIME DOES NOT PAY series.
    The four Joseph M. Newman’s seen show many of the same themes he would pursue throughout his career. RESPECT THE LAW is a film in praise of government regulation: it is about the most anti-Libertarian film I’ve ever seen. A businessman thinks regulation is the bunk, just like today’s Tea Party billionaires. But then things get out of hand…

    Newman would look further at medical problems in DEATH IN SMALL DOSES and the BIG VALLEY gem THE WAY TO KILL A KILLER. Doctors and nurses are everywhere in his films.

    Newman likes complex organization, often with men in uniform. They show up in CRIME DOES NOT PAY:
    Secret Service: Know Your Money,
    Police: Buyer Beware,
    Doctors: Respect the Law,

    And his later films:
    US Forest Service: Red Skies of Montana,
    Ship: Dangerous Crossing,
    Aliens: This Island Earth,
    police: King of the Roaring 20′s,
    Cavalry: A Thunder of Drums,
    Aliens, police, asylum: Black Leather Jackets.

    He especially likes US Federal Government organizations, sympathetically presented:
    Secret Service: Know Your Money,
    Pure Food and Drug Act: Triumph Without Drums,
    FBI, government lawyer: Love Nest,
    US Forest Service: Red Skies of Montana,
    Food and Drug Administration: Death in Small Doses,
    Library of Congress: Twenty Plus Two

    This article makes me want to see the whole series CRIME DOES NOT PAY.

  • Alex Hicks

    Joseph M. Newman!

    I recently referred to his “711 Ocean Drive” in the “Invasion of the Genre Metaphors” stream to bonk George Roy Hill over the head for lifting the technical basis for the surpise ending of “The Sting” from “711.” Had never heard of him until I recently streamed “711 Ocean Drive” on Netflix.

    I thought “711 Ocean Drive” was very good, at times exhileratingly so — a kind of CITIZEN KANE of bookie tycoons.
    (Certainly like “711 Ocean Drive” much more than THE STINK — perhaps a bit more than the much touted FORCE OF EVIL.)

    Anyone else think Newman’s pretty good, at least at times?

  • David Boxwell

    Best title of them all: “A THRILL FOR THELMA” (35). Back when even bad girls were named Thelma.

    Still evocative titles: “SOAK THE POOR” (37); “PURITY SQUAD” (45); “MIRACLE MONEY” (38).

    Marsha Hunt plays an unwed mother caught up in a baby adoption racket in “WOMEN IN HIDING” (40).

  • “711 Ocean Drive” and “This Island Earth” have been favorites for decades from TV broadcasts, Saturday matinees and revivals. Newman also directed the several times mentioned “The Open Window,” and “Dangerous Crossing” is a very good adaptation of a a John Dickson Carr story.

    But Alex your contention that “711 Ocean Drive” has an edge on “Force of Evil” brings us back to the style question from the previous thread, and here “Force of Evil” is by far the finer movie. Polonsky’s ecriture makes all the difference.

  • Alex

    “your contention that ’711 Ocean Drive’ has an edge on ‘Force of Evil’”

    Well, I just wrote that I “perhaps” “like” 711 “a bit more than the much touted FORCE OF EVIL.” not exactly the “contention” you suggest unless you use contention as “placing in competition” (which I did).

    Thanks for word of “This Island Earth,” “The Open Window,” and “Dangerous Crossing” — all news to me.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Mike, you should be pleased with the “Crime Does Not Pay” series when you catch up to it, as according to Dave’s review these films are full of crime-fighting technology. I have an interest in this too, and was very pleased, for example, when I caught up with TRAFFIC IN SOULS, as this 1913 film’s use of evesdropping technology made for a nice comparison with THE WIRE. Both Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and the BBC’s SHERLOCK use the latest technology, although the mental giant protagonist doesn’t really *need* it. Noirs are full of crimestopping tech (everyone is so mesmerized by Cagney in WHITE HEAT that they overlook the proto-GPS system that brings him down). Just this evening Chris Matthews on MSNBC cited MINORITY REPORT as a way forward toward detecting mass killers before they strike. Really.

    Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was of course more than a little hypocritical in producing a series of films called “Crime Doesn’t Pay,” given its great success in covering up the various scandals its personnel engaged with, some of them very serious. For one example, see David Stenn’s film GIRL 27 (available on DVD), for another google Wallace Berry and Ted Healey. I liked Beery better when the only crimes I knew for sure he committed was to load prop studio furniture onto his car to take home with him. That and of course stealing scenes. That Beery I could live with.

    I’ve recently read E J Fleming’s books “Paul Bern” (whose evident murder was disguised by his erstwhile studio pals as a suicide, as a way of avoiding a worse scandal, according to the author anyway) and “The Fixers” (on MGM honchos Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling). This last volume was disappointing as Fleming includes every scandal and rumor attached to everyone who crosses the paths of her protagonists; I was only interested in reading something from a new angle on the smooth running MGM machine. Consequently Mannix’s brusque personality gets lost. It’s interesting that Mannix registers favorably in books like James Curtis’ recent 1001 page whopper on Spencer Tracy, but rather less so in the works of the likes of Stenn and Fleming. (No, I don’t think he killed George Reeves, but I did enjoy Dan Hedaya’s portrayal of Mannix in HOLLYWOODLAND.) As a general comment, which I’m sure many here already know, you can learn more about a director (the primary interest of many on this blog) from reading movie star bios than you might think. There were informative stories about both Lubitsch and Preston Sturges in a Betty Grable bio I read last year, for example, that I hadn’t read any where else.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Hmm, while I’m sure I would have enjoyed Dan Hedaya’s portrayal of Eddie Mannix in HOLLYWOODLAND, the performance I actually liked was that of Bob Hoskins.

  • In addition to the Joseph M. Newman films mentioned, good ones include Red Skies of Montana, and the biopic The George Raft Story. Two of his Twilight Zone episodes are especially good, In Praise of Pip and the alien invasion tale Black Leather Jackets.

    Joseph M. Newman films often deal with science and technology, including:
    Crime thrillers, in which cops or crooks use technology, such as 711 Ocean Drive, Death in Small Doses, and many Crime Does Not Pay shorts;
    Pioneer science fiction films, including This Island Earth, one of the first films about interstellar travel and alien planets;
    Medical dramas about epidemic fighters, Respect the Law and The Way to Kill a Killer;
    Adventure films dealing with technology, such as his look at modern-day forest-fire fighters, Red Skies of Montana.

    Love Nest is an inoffensive but failed comedy that never generates many laughs. But it has come to fascinate, because of its use of long takes and camera movements. Such long takes run through many other Newman works, although less elaborately.

    Circular architecture in prominent in Newman’s visual style:
    drive-in, roads, Boulder Dam: 711 Ocean Drive,
    spaceship well with plane, control room, door, tubes, alien planet elevator, towers, control room: This Island Earth,
    circus rings: The Big Circus,
    fences and horse trailer: King of the Roaring 20′s,
    curving bar: Twenty Plus Two,
    ferris wheel: In Praise of Pip,
    curved road where murder takes place: An Unlocked Window

    Newman also likes circular light fixtures:
    hanging lights in wire service lab: 711 Ocean Drive,
    Interocitor dials, atom-like alien device: This Island Earth,
    rings of light on train depot ceiling: The Lawbreakers,
    flashback: Twenty Plus Two,
    opening shot at nightclub: The George Raft Story

    Newman also like long, narrow corridors, and bridges.

    Newman has both persistent subjects, and consistent features of visual style.
    He is hardly a Pantheon director, but there is much of interest in his cinema.

  • By the way, the Interocitor is a handy-dandy science fiction device, that appears in Newman’s sf gem This Island Earth.
    There is something hilarious as well as fascinating about the Interocitor. It is a subject of comedy right in Newman’s film.

    It has since “gone viral”, and pop culture is full of references to it.
    Including Looney Tunes: Back in Action, by one Joe Dante.

    Recently I learned EPUB format, so I could make my web works and short stories into e-books that can be read on tablet computers (like the Nook, iPad and Kindle).
    The analogy that kept popping into mind, was Rex Reason trying to figure out how to assemble the Interocitor in This Island Earth :)

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, how are you with the Wallace Berry who, according to Margaret O’Brien, routinely stole her lunch when they were on location making BAD BASCOMB?

    Like everything else, film history is best understood when looked at from all possible angles. I mentioned Walter Mirisch’s autobiography in the last thread. What I found interesting about it was how completely you are brought into the perspective of the producer while reading it. On HAWAII for instance, the continuing crisis was how to cut the story down to a reasonable length and how to stay within shouting distance of the budget that United Artists had given him.

    It does seem to me that studio short films has received extremely little attention both from film history and film criticism. Metro seems to have taken a somewhat singular approach among the major studios in placing a greater proportion of emphasis on the shorts. Not only was there the “Crime Does Not Pay” series, but also the John Nesbitt “Passing Parade” series and the Pete Smith Specialties and the Our Gang series and the Robert Benchley shorts. And Metro did seem to use the shorts as a developmental program for directors. Besides all of the names that Dave mentioned, George Sidney, Gordon Douglas and David Miller come immediately to mind as people who served apprenticeships in Metro short subjects.

    But, by the same token, can anybody recall any long running non newsreel series at Paramount or Fox?

  • alex r

    “It does seem to me that studio short films has received extremely little attention both from film history and film criticism”

    Leonard Maltin wrote a good history of short subjects-”The Great Movie Shorts” and there is Starring Robert Benchley by Robert Redding. Also Carlos Clarens’ Crime Films goes into the Crime Does Not Pay series.

  • jbryant

    A few months back, I mentioned seeing an excellent Joe Newman-directed episode of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR called “The Gentleman Caller,” scripted by James Bridges and starring Roddy McDowell. Definitely one to look for.

  • Barry Putterman

    Alex, Maltin’s book is extremely useful as a reference work, and the late Mr. Clarens wrote a very good book. But given the length of breadth of Hollywood studios shorts production, the list of works regarding them seems, well, short,

  • I’ll take your Crime Does Not Pay and raise you an even more admonishing title, Justice Traps the Guilty (never committed to celluloid, alas).

    http://www.comics.org/issue/208630/cover/4/

  • Gregg Rickman

    Very funny, Barry. His mugging, winking criminality makes Wallace Beery an appropriate mascot for the entire studio system…

    … Which when being constructed (in the teens) relied heavily first on shorts, and then on the features that replaced shorts, increasingly marginalizing them…. If you read the trade papers of the 1920s (as I have) they’re full of reports on how “short films are coming back” due to audience demand. At the beginning of 1920 (with the rise of features) shorts looked so endangered Paramount (then universally referred to in the trades as Famous Players-Lasky) announced they were dropping production of them. But they indeed came back. It was however a long losing struggle for short films, as they stubbornly refused to die and occasionally had a substantial influx of resources (as with MGM in the mid-1930s, as discussed here by Dave). In the mid-50s Columbia (the last studio, I think, to produce them) finally gave up on the Three Stooges… but by then half-hour situation comedies and dramas on television had taken their place. Today, a half hour Larry David or Louis C.K. episode roughly equals a two reeler, just as a hour crime show roughly equals a CRIME DOCTOR “B” movie.

  • It’s interesting to hear Fred Zinnemann talk about his work on the “Crime Does Not Pay” shorts. From “Fred Zinnemann: Interviews”:

    “The MGM shorts department was an excellent preparatory school for directors, because we had all the time in the world to prepare a film, but were obliged to shoot it very fast. So we had to be very well prepared – we had to pre-visualize each film. This was meant to teach us that time was money and that the better organized one was the more rapidly one could function. Severe as it seemed at the time, I must say the experience has helped me enormously all my life.”

  • Stephen Bowie

    Newman also likes steak. (I had lunch with him once.)

  • Gregg Rickman

    … And this site likes Newman. There are discussions of his JUNGLE PATROL in the “Eric Rohmer 1920-2010″ thread of January 11th 2010, of THIS ISLAND EARTH in “Race Cars and Reindeer” (May 23 2011) and the Hitch episode “An Unlocked Window” in “Sturges at Sunset” (April 18 2011). You can look ‘em up. I myself have seen his very interesting FORT MASSACRE (with a hardened Joel McCrea!), KING OF THE ROARING ’20s, and the Hitchcock episode “Misadventure” within the past few months. There’s a lot to be said for productive professionalism. He does seem to have a “CDNP” attitude toward flamboyant characters like Arnold Rothstein in KING, and the Barry Nelson of “Misadventure”, as well as Lola Albright’s straying wife in the latter.

  • I’ve been informed by a reliable source that Jack Arnold directed the scenes on the spaceship and Metaluna interiors in “This Island Earth.” Nonetheless, the first two acts at the research institute are entirely Newman’s work and play very well.

  • Gregg,
    Your comments on science in film are most welcome!
    I will be looking for SHERLOCK (now out on DVD, one sees).

    Science in such CRIME DOES NOT PAY Newman films as RESPECT THE LAW, KNOW YOUR MONEY, BUYER BEWARE seems to represent Reality. If people recognize science they are in touch with reality, and acting realistically. If they aren’t, the real world will come along and squash them like BAMBI MEETS GODZILLA :)

    Newman’s best short films have a desperate burning urgency. So do the other best Hollywood shorts of this era: the science films HARNESSED RHYTHM, ROMANCE OF RADIUM and THE MAGIC ALPHABET of Jacques Tourneur, the ballet film SPANISH FIESTA of Jean Negulesco, the Christmas drama STAR IN THE NIGHT of Don Siegel. These all seem films by people with personal visions they are extraordinarily anxious to communicate to audiences. They have the same sort of urgency that Rossellini films like FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS or EUROPE 51 have. These films seem to want us to take practical action, change our world view and change our ways.

    This vision and spirit seems more relevant than ever in today’s crisis of Global Warming. It is definitely time for all of us to change. As Arnold Schwarzenegger said in his speech on Global Warming at the UN, it is time for “action, action, action, action.”

  • Gregg Rickman

    Thanks, Mike. The house style of SHERLOCK is a good example of contemporary “accelerated continuity” (as discussed by D. Bordwell in “The Way Hollywood Tells It”) and like the Greenglass BOURNE films the style (jumpy camerawork, quick editing and all) works as a complement to the material (which is hardly always the case). David Fincher is also an influence, as with the ultra-modern tech angle that comes in with the 2010s gadgets Sherlock uses, with texts and the like sometimes illustrated as text on the screen, a la the Ikea furniture in FIGHT CLUB.

    Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the title character — a reinvention of an archetype we know well, with a character actor as odd, as distinctively odd as Peter Lorre or Brad Dourif — is of someone with ADD (with the usual Sherlockian melancholy threaded in) so it’s appropriate that the camerawork is too. Four of the five SHERLOCK episodes I’ve seen (of six) were directed by Paul McGuigan, whose theatrical films appear to be Guy Ritchie knockoffs — LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN (gak) certainly was. I haven’t seen his other films THE ACID HOUSE, GANGSTER NO. 1, THE RECKONING, WICKER PARK or PUSH to check. It’d be nice if even one of them approached the SHERLOCK episodes “The Great Game” or “A Study in Pink” in quality. (Hey! I just realized that Ritchie directed the two Robert Downey SHERLOCK HOLMES movies! Well in the case of this series, the pupil has surpassed the master.)

    One Euros Lyn directed the one weak season one episode, and like Toby Haynes, director of the season two finale, he’s a DOCTOR WHO veteran (as are the show’s creators). As some of the more interesting discussions on this thread revolve around the directors of tv episodes… like Joseph M. Newman… it’s nice to investigate authorial fingerprints on a contemporary show.

    My favorite Holmes movie is still Billy Wilder’s THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. It and SHERLOCK’s “A Scandal in Belgravia” would make a fun double bill.

  • nicolas saada

    correct me if I am wrong Dave, but I remember a particular episode of CRIME DOES NOT PAT directed by Gustav Machaty. It had to do with teenage crime and was a sort of THEY LIVE BY NIGHT before its time. It was beautiful, and meant as a training grounf for Machaty, after the success of ECSTASY which gave Hedy Lamarr the opportunity to be,come a star at MGM. I know that Tourneur once said that the CDNP shorts had bigger budgets than any of the RKO features he directed. It must be true.

  • nicolas saada

    Yes, THE WRONG WAY. Should have read your piece first!

  • Johan Andreasson

    Gregg, I share your enthusiasm for the BBC SHERLOCK. I’m a fan of the Conan Doyle stories, and I think it’s remarkable how the new series with the move to the 21st century and the state of the art technology has still managed to stay true in spirit to the source material.

    I’m not familiar with any of the earlier work by director Paul McGuigan, but writer and co-creator Steven Moffat gives him credit for the visual style: “We always wanted it to be stylish. We didn’t want it to be like other television. We wanted it to have a film sense. Everybody says that about their TV show. Everyone says that. But then my wife got a hold of [director] Paul McGuigan, and he’s the one who brought the tremendous beauty to it. One of the things he said was, ‘You want to think Sherlock Holmes is behind the camera, too.’ You want to see the world as Sherlock Holmes sees it. And that informs his work on an awful lot of the show, to give you the Sherlock’s eye view of the world all the time.”

  • Gregg Rickman

    Johann, I think SHERLOCK has a “film sense” like other contemporary “accelerated continuity” films, and the series’ success comes from a match between that style and the Moffat et al reconception of the character, as incarnated by Cumberbatch. I don’t really like the style, but it works in this case. I find a film sense more in line with what I really appreciate in MAD MEN (what with Weiner’s appropriation of early 1960s film style) and BREAKING BAD (with its use of images from the classical west built around its Albuquerque setting). Other series that I’ve seen enough to comment on look just like contemporary television: David Simon’s several series or BOARDWALK EMPIRE (despite the Scorsese DNA and period setting) are really as visually uninteresting as more downmarket cable series like EUREKA or LONGMIRE (whatever their other merits). (I might add that I like all of Simon’s series, and these other series as well, to one degree or another, and Mike Grost might appreciate EURKEA for its pro-science pov.) Michael Mann’s LUCK had a distinct look to it different from the other series David Milch was involved in, but while LUCK was visually consistent with the shiny surfaces of Mann’s movies it’s not a style I care for.

  • jbryant

    I think the most cinematically interesting shows that I regularly watch, aside from the aforementioned MAD MEN and BREAKING BAD, are USA’s SUITS and FX’s LOUIE. The former has a sophisticated slickness with lots of clean lines and reflective surfaces, while the latter is like a series of inventive independent shorts.

    I’m inclined to dub BREAKING BAD’s Michelle MacLaren the best director in TV at the moment. Last Sunday’s episode was especially strong.

  • Johan Andreasson

    I’m not suggesting that we’re looking for Pantheon material in the direction of the BBC SHERLOCK, where it seems fair to assume that the writers/creators of the show are the most important creative forces. But maybe, with a little bit of luck, there could be a modern day W S Van Dyke here, breezily and entertainingly adapting a popular crime solving couple to the screen, like in THE THIN MAN series.

  • Gregg Rickman

    True, Johan, SHERLOCK gets the Nick-and-Nora quality of Holmes and Watson over quite successfully, thanks of course to the actors. (A running gag on the series is everyone’s assumption that they’re a gay couple.) I have read, jb, MAD MEN and BREAKING BAD are both shot on 35mm film, which may explain their visual richness. This, by the way, may give both series (or elements of the series, anyway) a larger chance of surviving intact until the year 2112, as there seems to be some serious question about the lifespan of digital. It may be that it has less of a life expectancy than nitrate film.

  • Alex

    I’m not sure BBC SHERLOCK is more than part of a large pack of leading “movies” in a TV industry that preoduces extremely good “Movies” –Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Girls, The Good Wife, Homeland, Mad Men, Nurse Jackie (the withdrawn Pan Am and The Killing –plus such giants of just yesterday as Plaise Pascal, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Lonesome Dove, The Sopranos, prime Deadwood, Mildred Pierce)– than the nominal film industry.

    But BBC SHERLOCK is a very good example of current TV with innovative cinematic style –and a better one than the oddly alienating, hermetically trackworldly Luck. (It’s hard –at least for me– to judge the judhge of a something that doesn’t work,or to forground stylistic concerns for something that manifestly does.)

  • Brad Stevens

    “I’ve been informed by a reliable source that Jack Arnold directed the scenes on the spaceship and Metaluna interiors in “This Island Earth.”

    This would seem to be a myth. Research in studio records has apparently revealed that Arnold wasn’t connected with THIS ISLAND EARTH in any way.

  • “This would seem to be a myth. Research in studio records has apparently revealed that Arnold wasn’t connected with THIS ISLAND EARTH in any way.”

    My immediate source is David Skal, who produced and wrote documentaries for Universal’s science fiction DVD releases circa 1999-2000. David’s source is a 1979 interview with Jack Arnold conducted by Mark Magee:

    “Q:I was surprised that you weren’t chosen to direct This Island Earth, which was financially the most ambitious of the Universal science fiction films of the ’50s.

    “A:I had to go in and re-shoot a great deal of it. I was on what the studio called an “A” picture, The Lady Takes A Flyer with Lana Turner. They’d finished the principal photography of This Island Earth, cut it together, and it lacked a lot of things. So they asked me if I would help them, I went in and re-shot about half of it, but I didn’t take credit for it. Specifically, I re-shot most of the footage once they reached the dying planet.”

    By the way, who searched the studio records? Are the records still held by the studio or are they in the Herrick Library or a university library? If the records are complete, it prove that Arnold was doing some self-serving fabricating.

  • Brad Stevens

    I read a very thorough magazine article about the film, probably about ten years ago, whose author not only had access to the studio records, but interviewed many of the surviving cast and crew. It seems that nobody could recall Arnold being involved with THIS ISLAND EARTH. But I can’t imagine why Arnold would say something like this if it wasn’t true. I’ll see if I can locate the article.

  • Brad Stevens

    Just found this comment, posted by Tom Weaver on a message board: “It (the rumour) got started by Jack Arnold, who I guess felt he could get away with saying he directed half the movie, and did so in many interviews. When Bob Skotak wrote a book about THIS ISLAND EARTH and went through every piece of paperwork and talked to everybody still alive, there was no trace of Arnold participation ANYwhere — the people said they never worked with him for one day. (I also never found any THIS ISLAND EARTH veteran who knew what I was talking about when I’d mention Arnold in connection with it.) Finally Skotak went to Arnold and made it clear how thoroughly he’d investigated, and Arnold admitted he’d had nothing to do with the movie.”

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, the first clue that there might have been a little something off in regards to Arnold’s comment was his saying that he was making THE LADY TAKES A FLYER at the time that THIS ISLAND EARTH was in principal photography. THIS ISLAND EARTH was released in 1955. THE LADY TAKES A FLYER in 1958.

    As such, we might want to be generous and say that Arnold could have been having an isolated moment of confusion. As opposed to a pattern of jaw dropping statements, as in something like the Edgar G. Ulmer interview by Bogdanovich in”Kings of the Bs.”

  • Robert Garrick

    Let’s switch over to Ulmer, who said “Ya” more times than Inger Stevens in that Bogdanovich interview. Is it settled that he made stuff up? Ulmer’s career was so wild that I would hesitate to disbelieve anything.

    I’m not sure what Barry is referring to above. Maybe some of Ulmer’s comments about Fritz Lang?

    I have heard a few “jaw-dropping” stories about Fritz Lang myself, including one that Forrest Ackerman told me. Or, considering that it was Ackerman, perhaps I should say that it was “eye-popping.”

  • Barry Putterman

    Robert, you might want to revisit Ulmer’s comments regarding what it was that Murnau was in charge of and what it was the he was in charge of on Murnau’s films.

  • “‘Skotak went to Arnold and made it clear how thoroughly he’d investigated, and Arnold admitted he’d had nothing to do with the movie.”’

    Thanks Brad. That clears it up for me, and I’ll pass this along to David. Unfortunately, interviewers lack subpoena power and can’t depose their subjects under oath.

    Arnold’s story has the status of an urban legend, alas. Perhaps we need Talmudic standards when researching film history form oral sources so that we can stop Edim Zomimin from happening so often.

  • Just a follow-up to my earlier comments on tv directors. As has been discussed, authorship of tv shows are usually attributed to its “showrunner” (usually a hydra-headed combo of creator, writer, day to day producer). They’re usually very hands on, down to determining the minutiae of art direction – and shot selection – that had been, traditionally, in film, the province of the director. That’s one thing that makes discussion of levels of talent among tv directors – even the directors of this contemporary “golden age” Alex refers to above – so difficult. It’s known that Vince Gilligan (BREAKING BAD) and Matt Weiner (MAD MEN) are very hands on in this way, although judging from the commentary on the dvd a guest movie director (Rian Johnson) was given his head in the two-hander BB episode “Fly” – with good results. David Simon, also, supervises the details of his shows very closely, and I have seen an interview with Agnieszka Holland (who’s directed for both THE WIRE and TREME) where she commented that she was surprised that the tv crew were surprised when she started exerting her directorial prerogatives, as she did, on some of those series’ best episodes.

    I commented above that Simon’s shows aren’t remarkable visually, but should take that back. I made a point of watching a rerun of the second season TREME Mardi Gras episode last night (director John Patterson) as well as my first episode ever of THE NEWSROOM (director Dan Minahan). Patterson did a fine job at deploying the gaudy imagery of Mardi Gras in a mature, intelligent way, and can assume to have had a hand in the grace notes achieved by several of its cast members. THE NEWSROOM however… was awful. But should the badness be attributed primarily to writer/showrunner/god Aaron Sorkin (who bears sole credit for this episode’s script) or should Minahan be blamed for the uneven rapport of the cast? My magic 8-ball says, “Could be.”

  • Johan Andreasson

    Gregg, that sounds right to me. While you can praise good personal work by directors on single episodes, the authorship of tv shows like THE WIRE and BREAKING BAD (to name my own favorites) belongs to the show runners. I recently reread the chapter on THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD in Todd McCarthy’s Howard Hawks biography, and what Hawks did on that picture sounds very much like what the show runner does on the best tv shows.

  • Robert Garrick

    Hawks flatly said (to my friend Jim D’Arc, under whose control the Hawks papers reside) that he had to come in and direct “The Thing From Another World.” I don’t know how anyone could believe otherwise, given the way the dialogue in the film is handled, among other things.

    David Skal–terrific, careful writer. I’ve praised his books “The Monster Show” and “Dark Carnival” (a biography of Tod Browning) here in the past. Tom Weaver, too, is an extremely careful historian, though of course most of his books consist of transcribed interviews. Thank goodness for them.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Robert, what I was trying to say is that I consider THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD a personal work by Howard Hawks even though he didn’t take a directing credit, and in the same way the authorship of a tv show doesn’t necessarily lie with the credited director.

  • Alex

    “While you can praise good personal work by directors on single episodes, the authorship of tv shows like THE WIRE and BREAKING BAD.”

    But who merits AUTHORSHIP for a single episode, and why?

  • Noel Vera

    Speaking of science fiction, the director of one of the greatest examples of the genre has died, Chris Marker.

  • Johan Andreasson

    “But who merits AUTHORSHIP for a single episode, and why?”

    That would probably be something like a strong creative producer like Val Lewton working with a good director. Gregg (and many others) has singled out “Fly” from season 3 of BREAKING BAD as especially well directed. Here’s director Rian Johnson talking about his experience with it:

    http://www.indielondon.co.uk/TV-Review/rian-johnson-talks-breaking-bad-s-the-fly

  • Chris Marker, an incredible, original, and unique talent, always ahead of his time.

  • Steve Elworth

    Farewell to the extraordinary, film maker, digital pioneer cat lover, Chris Marker who Alain Resnais properly called the first man of the 21st century dead at 91 but far from forgotten.

  • Brad Stevens

    In general, it simply doesn’t makes sense to talk about direction in episodic television in the way we would talk about direction in feature films. In a film, you can be certain that, whetever restrictions the director had to work under, she or he was in control of the mise ene scene, whereas in television most mise en scene decisions appear to be made by somebody else. The claim ‘Martin Scorsese makes extenisve use of handheld cameras in MEAN STREETS’ would be a simple statement of fact, whereas the claim ‘Don Weis makes extensive use of handheld cameras in his episodes of HILL STREET BLUES’ would need to be heavily qualified, since every episode of HILL STREET BLUES makes extensive use of handheld cameras, no matter who is directing: if Weis had decided he didn’t to use handheld cameras, he would presumably have been overruled.

  • Thanks, Johan. Rian Johnson: “my impression is that TV is very much a writer and producer’s medium.”

    Also comparable to “showrunner”: the position of “supervisor” credited in many late 20s films. Last night I watched the three Anita Garvin & Marion Byron shorts made at Roach in 1928-9, an attempt to formulate a female Laurel & Hardy team. (They’re on the Filmmuseum set “Female Comedy Teams.”) All three were supervised by Leo McCarey, who’d been promoted to that position after serving as director for Charley Chase and other Roach comics. The three (FEED ‘EM AND WEEP, director Fred Guiol; the fragment of GOING GA-GA, director James Horne [and, according to the website silentera.com, Gilbert Pratt]; A PAIR OF TIGHTS, director Hal Yates) all seem of a piece directorially, as do the contemporaneous Roach Laurel & Hardys, and Max Davidsons, supervised and sometimes directed by McCarey. In the first two Garvin & Byron are directed to behave like Ollie & Stan, respectively, while in A PAIR OF TIGHTS Edgar Kennedy is clearly doing Oliver Hardy, with Stu Erwin tagging along with no business at all. (Anita & “Peanuts” are playing more normal, but still comic, characters.) I doubt if this was Yates’ inspiration; rather, McCarey and colleagues were tinkering around trying to get a series on its feet. They succeeded on the third try (although the fragment of GOING GA-GA is pretty funny) but inspiration ran out; Roach would try again with the series of comedies teaming Thelma Todd and others he’d start a couple of years later.

  • nicolas saada

    tv is the writer’s medium, definitely. But writing at this stage of control, is similar to directing: it sets everything, from dialogue to mood.

  • All I can add to this astute discussion of the thorny issue of auteurism among television directors is: welcome to my life.